Time has come to move beyond Housing First model for homeless people in Interior Health | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Time has come to move beyond Housing First model for homeless people in Interior Health

FILE PHOTO - While the province’s drive in the last few years to build supportive housing to help get people out of homelessness has been vitally important, it’s time to move to the next step, Bob Hughes, CEO of the ASK Wellness Society, told an Interior Health board meeting.

While the province’s drive in the last few years to build supportive housing to help get people out of homelessness has been vitally important, it’s time to move to the next step, said Bob Hughes, the CEO of the ASK Wellness Society.

“We need to expand our opportunities for people to engage in recovery programming,” Hughes told the Interior Health board of directors at a meeting yesterday, Feb. 16.

“People, once they get into housing, that is the beginning. The next step is access to health-care programs. We know complex care is on the horizon so I see that these are the really desperately needed steps that I’m very excited that our organization will be able to continue to work with Interior Health to develop innovative responses.”

ASK Wellness is in its 30th year as a non-profit. It started helping people deal with the HIV-AIDS crisis but has grown into an organization with 250 employees that manages more than 600 affordable housing units in Kamloops, Penticton and Merritt.

READ MORE: ASK Wellness to manage controversial Northbridge Hotel in Kamloops

Hughes and Debbie Morris, mental health and substance use coordinator for Interior Health, gave an outline to the board of how effectively the two organizations have worked together to deal with the both the opioid and homelessness crises.

“In speaking to the housing portfolio, one of the things that we’ve seen, in working with Interior Health teams, is recognizing that we need a tapestry of housing,” Hughes said. “We’ve seen the creation of supportive housing as a starting point from streets into shelters into that first stage of housing.

"One of the key parts that we see as the evolution of our agency, in partnership with Interior Health, is the housing matching the particular needs of the individuals that we’re seeing. The level of crises when it comes to housing affordability and housing for such a diverse range of people in our region is something that we take very seriously. Our housing really is moving from a street level entering into Housing First into a second stage.”

He noted that he was attending the meeting virtually from a 42-unit “supportive recovery setting” that houses people who have been able to move beyond the initial supportive housing units that were provided under the province’s Housing First model over the past few years.

ASK Wellness CEO Bob Hughes
ASK Wellness CEO Bob Hughes
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/ASK Wellness

The Housing First concept was that people, first of all, needed safe, warm and dry shelter in order to start dealing with mental health, addiction and other issues that contributed to them remaining homeless.

Interior Health has put out a call for proposals to create a facility to help those with multiple and complex needs and similar facilities are being developed in other areas of the province.

Morris noted that Interior Health has been changing the way it deals with these issues by doing things like increasing outreach programs so it can bring services to people where they’re at. But more needs to be done.

“We all have to be in it together,” she said. “Realizing there is a lot of focus provincially, as well, on how do we continue to build joint conversations and, maybe, look at how we do things differently around how we flow funds to people with multiple and complex needs across different sectors.”

READ MORE: B.C. finally has a plan for the most difficult people to house in Kamloops and Kelowna

More also has to be done to show communities that these approaches are working.

“I think there’s some work ahead for all of us to really show the linkage between what harm reduction has achieved and what role it does play in terms of safety for people in times of crisis,” Hughes said.

“This is an opportunity, right now, to link harm reduction services, including supportive housing, with a road map towards being able to support people to get well and have an opportunity to engage in employment and community.”


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